Honda debuts motorcycle self-balancing technology at CES that allows motorcycle to balance itself at a stop and at low speeds without gyros
When it comes to safety and technology, you can always count on Honda to be at the cutting edge of development. The company’s latest demonstration of this engineering prowess was at the opening of the annual CES (Consumer Electronics Show) held in Las Vegas, where Honda introduced its “Moto Riding Assist” system that utilizes robotics technology to allow a motorcycle to balance itself at slow speeds and while stopped.
Riding a motorcycle at very slow speeds requires a modicum of skill from the rider to maintain balance and keep from falling over. Because of its single- track wheel stance, a two- wheeled vehicle will fall over without some sort of balance assistance. This involves a subtle dance of power application and steering corrections from the rider, with front- wheel movements being the primary factor.
Gyroscopes can help with balancing, but they add significant weight and bulk. Honda sidestepped this problem by using an innovative combination of sophisticated robotics, proprietary software technology, and various levers and electric motors to modify the steering angle and subtly turn the front wheel to counteract the motorcycle’s tendency to tip over.
Honda accomplishes this by having the steering controlled by an electric motor attached to the top of the steering head— basically, a “steer by wire” system. In addition, an electronically controlled linkage system on the bottom triple clamp extends the angle of the fork relative to the steering head as the bike rolls to a stop, changing the steering geometry’s trail. By raking out the fork relative to the steering head, the trail changes from positive (the line through the steering head intersects the ground ahead of the front axle, like most motorcycles) to negative (the steering head line ends up behind the front axle).
By changing the trail from positive to negative, the motorcycle’s steering has much greater effect on restoring balance. With negative trail, turning the steering into the direction the bike is falling actually forces the bike upright, making it effective as a restoring force in balancing the bike. By using sophisticated robotics software to control the electronic steering, Moto Riding Assist is able to keep the bike upright with or without a rider aboard.
Because the system is mounted on the steering head and triple clamp areas, Honda says Moto Riding Assist can be retro- fi tted to many existing models without extensive modification. That the system was fitted to a DCT- equipped NC750S fi ts right with part of its applicable market: commuting urban riders who are intimidated by the skills required to pilot a full- size bike at low speeds. There were no announcements on whether the Moto Riding Assist system would be put into production, but you can bet this concept isn’t far off in the horizon.
I already know what many of you are thinking: “This is ridiculous. If a person can’t balance themselves at a stop or at slow speeds, they shouldn’t be riding a motorcycle.” While I probably would have agreed with that statement decades ago, the situation regarding the motorcycle industry has changed since then. The problem right now is that we don’t have enough new riders coming in to replace the ones who are aging out of the market. There are likely many people who would like to ride a motorcycle but either can’t because of physical limitations or don’t because they’re intimidated by balancing a motorcycle’s size and bulk at low speeds. Moto Riding Assist could give these people reason to try riding a motorcycle, and at this point in time, we can’t afford to be the slightest bit elitist about our sport.
For those purists who will wail about the Moto Riding Assist’s steer- by- wire system and electronics taking away the skill of riding a motorcycle, the fear of technology in motorcycling is groundless. All motorcycles won’t eventually be self- propelling vehicles; there will always be a choice, just like most traction control systems (and many ABS setups) can be turned off if desired. Technology has helped motorcycling, and in this case, it’s something that could benefi t the sport that I want to see remain healthy into the long- term future. SR